Most followers in the Phoenix Suns’ universe are finding a pretty firm grip on their team’s identity, both now and for its upside this season, but the national perception continues to be a moving target.
With Chris Paul orchestrating the offense, finding chemistry and new ways to attack a defense seemingly every game, the Suns have tangible upside and remain a source of optimism in the Valley.
That’s not to say the team’s progress isn’t without its challenges.
In the latest round of NBA power rankings, stock in the Phoenix Suns slid following back-to-back overtime losses to the Denver Nuggets.
The Suns, seeking a playoff spot for the first time since 2010, have landed right around the top 10 in several prominent sets of rankings with games against Oklahoma City, Golden State and Dallas this week.
They’re halfway through a part of the schedule that provided a real chance for separation.
We’ll order this collection of rankings beginning with the most pessimistic.
CBS Sports has Phoenix at No. 14, falling five positions from last week.
The site underscored the Suns’ “rusty” appearance following a week off because of three COVID-postponed games and tossed further cold water on optimism by indicating Devin Booker (hamstring) could miss significant time.
The good news is Deandre Ayton … averaging 22 points, 14.8 rebounds and two blocks on 64 percent shooting (last week).
As of Monday afternoon, Booker’s status was uncertain. With home games Wednesday and Thursday (Oklahoma City and Golden State), the Suns may decide to play it safe with their max-contract star and make sure he’s 100 percent the next time he suits up.
Three other nationally prominent NBA power rankings place the Phoenix Suns in the top 10.
The rankings this week from Bleacher Report come with some points of concern baked in. BR has the Suns at No. 10 but points to a sputtering offense as a problem, specifically, the most basic play in basketball.
From the BR ranking on the Suns: “It is surprising for a team with Chris Paul and Devin Booker to have a mediocre pick-and-roll offense. According to Synergy Sports, the Phoenix Suns are averaging just 0.96 points per possession on pick-and-rolls, including passes. That is 20th in the NBA.”
The NBA.com rankings have the Suns ranked 10th, down one from last week. It’s a ranking consistent with three advanced metrics rankings from the site: Phoenix’s offensive rating is 110.5 (11th in the NBA), its defensive rating is 108.7 (10th overall) and the team’s net rating is +1.8 (12th).
This week’s report was nice enough to provide some therapeutic assistance to Phoenix fans. Yes, the perception that the Suns have been right there in virtually every game rings true. John Schuhmann references the painful reality that six of the team’s seven losses include a deficit of three points or fewer in the final minute of the fourth quarter.
And, he says: “Last week’s near misses featured a missed dunk from Devin Booker during a late, 11-2 Memphis run on Monday, a go-ahead jumper from Chris Paul that rimmed out on Friday, and Abdel Nader’s 1-for-3 trip to the line before Jamal Murray’s game-tying 3 on Saturday.”
Thanks for bringing those recent memories back to the surface.
The half-full glass goes to ESPN’s rankings, which painted a more realistic view of the OT losses to Denver. As an aside, the Nuggets moved up three spots to No. 8 and the Suns dropped only one spot, from No. 8 to No. 9.
That ranking has to feel good for fans citing legitimate excuses for the dual heartbreakers (the aforementioned “rust” in the first game; the late-game injury to Devin Booker in the second).
Fun fact from ESPN: “Chris Paul’s 135 assists are the most by a Suns player through 15 team games since Steve Nash (140) in 2011-12, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.”
With those back-to-back home games against the Thunder and Warriors, and then a trip to Dallas this week, the Suns continue to work on solving their puzzle — and they have their fans’ rapt attention.